Saturday, 23 September 2017

Alpine Adventure

I'm not long back from a week in the Alps. I, like a cohort of other 50 something men, felt compelled to experience the grief that bike riders in Le Tour and the Dauphine Libere face. The pain comes from exotically named climbs like Le Galibier, Le Col d'izoard, Le Col De Bonette and others. These mountain passes have a mystical reputation among cyclists. There's nothing much to match them in Blighty.  I travelled with Mr M. He's not a huge cyclist but is a couple of years older than me. He also felt drawn to tick this slow burner off his bucket list. I was also keen to try on the new Gothic mash up jerseys which look great (even if I did the design myself).
We arrived at Nice, where we picked up a Clio estate after a false start with a fiat. We shoe horned the bike cases into the boot. It wasn't exactly commodious. There was barely enough room for anything more. He had booked a Focus estate, but the hire company advised that they had none. Breach of contract I would have said (or check the small print), if my French had been any better.

Nice is mega busy. Its getting a new tram down the high street just behind the promenade, and trying to find a parking space late at night was a near impossibility. At least their tram looked like it went somewhere useful. It's chaos in the town.

The next morning we took off after a coffee and croissant to Jouliers, a two hour drive into the Alps. We parked the car in the village and after a pretend steak (reconstituted mince) and sad flaccid chips washed down with tea au lait, we set off up the Bonette. This is the highest mountain pass in the French Alps at 9000ft above sea level (three times Ben Nevis, nearly). As a relative lightweight, I was soon some way ahead of my buddy and climbing steadily on smooth roads. These climbs are long steady drags with frequent zig-zags to reduce the gradient. They were formed so that you could get your horse and cart over the mountain in yon olden days, so nothing desperately steep or arduous. However, this beast went on and on; and on and on. I spent 2 solid hours going up into the sky. I noticed the air getting thinner near the top (who wants fat air anyway?). My breathing became a little more laboured. I imagined, at one point, a grey tree stump looking like a wolf. There are no houses or cafes at the top. It looks like the moon. It's deserted. It also blows a hoolie on the crest.
Promenading with the new mash up jersey at Izoard
A mile from the top, it began to get darker. A sinister heavy air arrived like a mugger. The cloud began to drop. The rain began as I crested the final bend. Within 2 or 3 minutes I was wringing as the horizontal freezing rain pelted down (or rather across). As I cowered behind an old ruin, hurriedly putting on a thin orange waterproof and scrabbling through frozen fingers to put my phone into a plastic bag, a little voice in my head was saying 'this is not good, this is not good at all'...I didn't want to be a statistic. My own personal Brexit. I had to get down off the hill, even as the cloud dropped and visibility become next to nothing. Thankfully I had lights on the bike and knew I had to get off the mountain as soon as I could. However, it took me a full hour to come down, stopping once coming out of the mist to tell Mr M to turn around and another couple of times to blow into my numb hands. Not much fun. The dutch guys in the café tabac had a chuckle as we came in, teeth chattering.
'Froid?' inquired the bar man as we order coke and hot choc. and huddled round the cups for warmth.

The next day we chose an easier ride and biked 20 miles up an old gorge near Briancon, but there's nought flat about the Alps and even this ride was testing. The next day after a glass or three of wine and another burger in the evening, we attempted Izoard. The sky was blue and as I climbed it was quite a contrast to Bonette. It took only 1:40 for the climb to the summit. The roads over there are smooth for the most part and it was a delight. I had a teary moment at the top, before manning up and rattling off a few photos. I even had the bravado to drop back down a kilometre to meet Mr M coming up. Descending was exhilarating and back into town, it was hot and sunny. We sat on the kerb and feasted on ham,brie,baguette and plum tomatoes. This was our lunch every day.


Later in the day, we drove to Les Deux Alpes, a ski resort at 6000ft. There had been snow on the peaks the night before and things were decidedly chilly. We were not far from Alpe D'Huez. I could hear the metamorphic behemoth growling down the valley as we approached our hotel. The resort was surprisingly large with more than a mile of high street, but it was truly deserted. Thankfully we found a great restaurant (Le Rustique) and spent two nights at the resort. We rode the back of Le Galibier on the Sunday and met a couple from Oregon and a bunch of lads from Cork. It was brassicks though.

The threat from Huez was regrettably enough to scare us back to Digne Les Bains, back down toward Nice the next day. We took a back road for a low intensity spin and still ended up finding Le Col de Corobin at the end. It was then onto Nice, our final day. Huez will have to be tamed on another trip. Before our late flight we managed 20 miles up and down the flat and balmy sea front. We dodged other bikies, joe public, suicide scooterists and flash cars with even flashier occupants. I welcomed the easy ride. I had developed a sore knee, maybe not surprising after 18000ft of climbing in the week.

I have a 2 stage hill climb at Gateshead tomorrow. Plenty of altitude, but I can be fairly sure there'll be no snow at least. Next time, I think I might give Huez a go, but perhaps in June.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Mash up

My Achilles is much improved tonight as I lie on the bed half watching 'Grand Designs' and waiting for something better to start. There's been little or no running for a good wee while now. The biking is coming on, though. I've ridden around 100 miles this week so far, over 4 rides. Short and prompt. 18-20mph, but no heroics. I also got the other Condor back from my errant daughter and am looking forward to a change of bike. Like all long-time bikies, I have a small stable of two wheelers, but not enough time to appreciate them all, or money to make sure they're all road-worthy. Its true, they are in various states of repair. New biking bits are pretty pricey, and I like to shop on ebay when possible, but mostly browse...its cheaper. However, on the cycling clothing front, I am prepared to make an exception. I have designed a new jersey for the Gothic cycling club. Its not the official jersey, but a leftfield 'mash up'. I think its 'the dogs' and can't wait to wear it in the soon to arrive Hill-climb season (all 8 weeks of it!). They're due on the 20th September. There are a few spares and I think there won't be a problem with demand for the surplus items. I tried to change the pdf of the design to a jpeg file so I could stick it up, but my computer skills are just above the abacus level, so you'll have to imagine it or get on the clubs Facebook page.

As I consider re-engaging the running scene, I have a mind to butcher an old pair of Nikes that were due to be thrown out. I think if I cut out a section of heel, it might reduce the chances of inflammation from the constant rubbing. Worth a try.
Its karate tomorrow and the bike later. In between , theres a curtain rail thats looking for a fix and a hedge that needs to be taken down a peg or two.   There's also the Wiggle Northern Angel Sportive passing my doorstep on Sunday and I've a mind to gatecrash it. Pick up a little company and some quality miles. We'll have to see how it pans out.    

Friday, 4 August 2017

Hard Boiled

I'm struggling badly at the mo. with an inflamed right Achilles. I'm not even sure why I felt the need to put Achilles in capitals. Anyway, I've haven't even had the energy to take an interest in the usual races that have come and gone. Some words like 'ruptured' or 'torn' have crept into the conversation, then hobbled out of it. These are words that haven't been invited to the party. They're gatecrashers. Unwelcome. These kind of words are for other people.

There was never any chance of me going to A&E; partly because they do good work and have little time for self induced injuries, partly because they've no time for malingerers like me, but mostly because they might tell me no exercise Mr Mac; or they might even stick my leg in a cast-off moon boot from a star wars storm trooper. Does the Empire do half sizes? Some exhausted doctor might advise me to take a course of paracetamol, or, alternatively, to 'use the Force'. Would this save on the prescription charges, I wonder? 

I have accepted that the running thing may have to take a back seat in any case. The karate continues to demand more elasticity, discipline and washing powder than I can provide.
A weeks planned cycling in the Alpine passes in September also means I need to beef up the quads and cut out the donuts. Easier said than done. The summer's been a bit up and down, but even as my old running canine partner declines, my new best friends are a pool full of tadpoles in the wee garden. They are keeping me busy, topping them up every day and willing them to get bigger. A bit needy, they're taking an age to sprout legs. The pool is actually only a posthole. I dug it earlier in the year and some frog decided it was the spawning spot for them.

Me and Missus Mac took the newly arrived tandem down to Ely 3 weeks ago. Its working out well so far. We had a cultural whirlwind tour of the town, Cromwells House and watched a performance of Richard the Third. We also did some flat roads around Norfolk and hung out at the Cathedral (as you do). We stopped frequently to graze on the bloated brambles at the side of the road. Its a different climate down there, I tell you.

I returned from down south only to go straight up north as I was press ganged to ride with three bandoliers up to North Berwick for a long planned weekend. We set off at 8am and had a tailwind almost all the way up in dry conditions. The 105 miles were a breeze. I then did 40 wet miles on the Saturday morning back around Dunbar turning at the Pease Bay roundabout with Steve H. It was so wet, the snails were all out in force. We kept bumping into wet, subdued Canadian couples doing some tour of the Scottish coast or somit? Might have looked like a good idea at the time. On the Sunday, we rode back home in the rain. When we stopped at Berwick for a cuppa, the delightful woman in Fortes Café brought out some towels for us....now that's service. The only other saving grace was that we had nearly a tailwind back home. It was wet. Very wet.

As I am partially laid up, I have digested Murikami's left field and engaging but weird 'Hard Boiled Wonderland' and then it was on to 'The Watchmaker of Filigree Street'.  The book was a present but it took me an age to read. It tried but failed. disjointed and poor character development. However, I am continuing to ply the urban fantasy theme with Neil Gaimans 'Neverwhere'. Its an easy, wholesome and cheery read. Now he's someone who can tell a story.

Anyway, I feel some gym work beckoning, otherwise I wont be able to pull on my jeans. Wish me luck. till next time.


Some this week      

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Black Rock, Eildon and Dollar

I have been very remiss in posting recently. I have given myself a good telling off. However, that said, I recall my stifling eagerness in 2007 for running, when I started blogging. The blog was really a diary for my running. With age, 12 years of club running and many thousands of miles under my belt, I have allowed myself a bit of slack as I begin to accept that in order to keep myself in one piece, I might have to cut my cloth (as they say) and learn to enjoy events, rather than beat myself up trying to compete. Its a slow transition, but I'm working on it. If I keep telling myself to enjoy the run as I run out of puff, I might start believing it...sometime. In the meantime...

Three weeks ago I strained my right hamstring  a week before my second karate competition. I still took part and got a good mashing by a national team member. He was good. I hobbled off home to recover and ducked out of a club training run a week later after half a mile.

We took off on the Friday (23rd June) to Kinghorn, pitched the tent and, after tea at Burntisland, met up with speedy joe, the daughter, at the railway station. I was on camera duty. As the whole village began to jump to the annual sound of the Black Rock 5, the village population swelled with 1500 runners. It was bouncing in the midsummer heat. I half walked, half jogged down the street and across the sand and took a position on a rocky promontory.

After an age they came galloping down the road and across the sand and I clicked away for a good wee while before jumping down and running into the snake of runners, clicking as I went. I then jogged halfway back along the street and continued taking snaps as they returned.


Afterwards, I retired to the Auld Hoose pub and waited for the missus and speedy J. They returned via the showers and the chip shop which had apparently run out of fish and chips. Some beer was supped. During the evening I admitted that I may as well have run the race as I had jogged most of the course (well, some of it). We wandered back to the tent around 11:30.


The next day after breakies we took off home, but deviated across to the A68 and to Melrose, where the Eildon 3 Hills Race was on. It was hot and the town was in full gala mode, and after some chin scratching, I thought I might test the hamstring. I took the Canon with me as a crutch more than anything, thinking that if I had to stop early into the race, at least I could get some snaps. As it was, I grafted up and over the hills and passed speedy on the way down as she tip-toed her way over the scree. I shouted that she needed to 'trust her studs on the way down'.  I finished some way down the field, but not a disaster by any means and more importantly, without any serious aches. Mrs Mac, who also entered was nearly last, cursing us for persuading her to run this Borders Bonanza. We did enjoy the chat, tea and cakes afterwards.

Training last week was patchy but come Saturday morning, I committed myself to the Dollar Hill Race, and took off up the road arriving in good time for the start in the rarefied grounds of the Academy. It was vest only, long shorts and compression socks, partly to try and avoid injury and partly to cover up from tick-central. I hate those blighters. There were about 10 or 12 runners from a French running club (plus some cheery hangers on) which boosted the numbers and gave the race a continental flavour.

Eildon Hill Race Start
The last time I did this race was in 2010 when it was a UK fell running championship counter. I forgot about the punishing start, this time reverting to a spider like crawl up toward the crest of Saddle Hill.  I was wearing a nylon cap  and near the top I was enveloped in my own little rainforest monsoon, a regular series of salty drips discharging across my face. Over the top I was around 20th and just behind a Kinross runner. However, the cloud was down and visibility was around 50m, and after putting on my waterproof on the move, I clung to him as he ran on with purpose. I hung on with him around 10-15 seconds ahead for a while, seemingly wandering around the tussocky and undulating ridges for a long time with hardly anyone else in sight. On the climb up to the last rise, Andrew Gannel Hill, a Penecuik runner who had been shadowing me, passed me and took up the chase with Kinross, who was well away.
I found the descent hard and wasn't sure if the compression socks were the reason I had begun cramping up. I ended up walking a little way at the end and losing a few more places before those cheery continentals gave me some reason to pick it up and 'Allez' to the finish line. Nice chat with a couple of lads, 20 minutes with the masseur and great cake layout with tea galore. Home via the Dalkeith kebab shop and spent an hour in the bath, partly reading and partly obsessing about the days race, re-running parts in my head.  I loaded up the snaps of Eildon on Flickr with a link from the Scottish Hill Racing Facebook Site. Still got another 80 snaps from the Black Rock to load up, but it takes an age. Maybe find time tomorrow. Upwards and onwards.

 








Sunday, 28 May 2017

Baking, but not in the Kitchen...

'Grantchester's' on the TV and I'm sitting here not taking much notice. The fishing guy who had a brief singing career is in it. I think he'd make a good replacement for Vera, the Northumbrian detective. Talking about Northumbria (see that smooth segway...you don't deserve it), its been an unusual week, with only 27 miles in the bag all week, but six of those coming from the Cookson 10k at Whitley Bay and 6 more from the Allendale Fair Trail Race, yesterday.

The Clive Cookson 10k is about the fastest course around these parts. On Wednesday night there were around 300 overly warm p.b. chasers, looking flushed on lap one and becoming nicely toasted during the second lap of this two lapper. It was searing, it was.  My blue vest was ringing at the end.  I scraped a time just below the 40 minute mark, but only just. Even though I ended up 2nd V50, it was tough and a personal worst for some 10 years. But my aim was a sub-40 and it would be churlish not to be relieved that I scraped a performance of sorts. As I gasped my way to the finish, I kept telling myself to keep my technique. I spent the last mile with my eyes glued to the runners shoes in front. 'Just get me to the end' I thought. I think most folk had a tough time. The goody bag had a t-shirt in it. That's all. Just a t shirt....bit of a waste of a goody bag.  Would we have to pay 5p. Nice T shirt though.

Allendale Fair day 10k was just as hot, but with 650ft of climb and an 'out and back' affair, it was quite a different dish. Unlike revenge, it wasn't a dish served cold....not so much searing, more sweltering. With only 50 entrants and half of them women, we kicked off this modest Allen Valley Striders event at 11am. It was about 25 degrees. The rain clouds were gathering, but the heat hadn't broken. The course is a mile of tarmac road up into the moors and 2 miles of baked track that runs across the moor and makes up the back end of the Hexham Hobble fell race, held in December.  I found myself, early on, in 3rd place with Speedy Joe on my shoulder (the daughter) and a bloke from Ponteland Running club. I pushed on up the hill leaving them a little behind. Had I gone too soon? Were they just not trying? Who is Kaiser Sose?

I ground my way across the dry sandy track. It was rock hard. Dry as a bone. Drier even.  A dry bone. A couple of nesting Curlews flapped about as we trogged by. I didn't think that the 3rd mile could be so long.

I was running into a light headwind and could see the two front runners a minute ahead through the heat haze. At the turn (a marshall and her lone red cone) we were in a hollow and as I turned to head back, I was met by a wall of heat.
Cooking.  Was that Dante I spied at the side of the track? Was that Anonymous Bosch travelling incognito on the ridge getting some ideas for his latest oil?  I struggled back up out of the gully as the rest of the field behind me passed coming the other way and making their way to the turn, the hot bollard; glen furnace; the dip of sweaty misery.....

If I could keep up the pace, I would snaffle a podium place, but Ponteland runner was suddenly there. The heat wasn't a problem for him, clearly. And then at mile 4 he was ahead and making easy distance between us.  I expected 'Speedy' to come past also, but she couldn't summon up enough zing. In the event she finished 20 seconds behind and first woman by a good 5 minutes, so that's good enough. We all got a wee water bottle.

It was a good natured presentation, ironically next to the graveyard and next to the hall 20 minutes later.  I won £10 for best dressed v50 and then because of my stylish gait, a pair of socks in the spot prize. Tidy. We toured the stalls in the village and, armed with a cuppa, we watched the strongmen do their thing. We left with thirsty five quids worth of vouchers and stopped for chips at Haydon Bridge, cause we're hard-core!

This morning I was going to get 13 miles in to maintain my 40 a week habit, but my heel and Achilles are having an Allendale hangover, so no sport today.    Best get myself in shape, though, as its Black Rock 5 month next month and in preparation, I've a wee notion to return to Yetholm for the hill race, where I've enjoyed a tussle or two in the past. 



Thursday, 27 April 2017

Basking in Reflected Glory

The Elswick relays were a blast on Good Friday. We watched the women give the other clubs a good old easter pasting, with the A team winning in a record time around the 2.2 mile course and the B team landing 4th. Little Miss Speedy made the A team with Jane Hodgson and Laura Weightman - quite daunting company. Her sister, known affectionately as the dark destroyer, was getting back from injury and made the B team. They were no slouches either.

I was selected for the vets B team and I was first off. With such a short and flat course there are no tactics; its simply a case of how much oxygen you can get in and how much lactic you can stand before the falling apart malarkey starts. I tried to track the A team runner Rob, but he got 20 seconds on me in the second mile. I got round in 12:41, only 5 seconds slower than last year. We finished 9th. I wouldn't like to say what the cumulative age of the team was, but it was over 200 anyway; a bit like my heart rate at the end of the stage.

We nipped over the watch the North Tyneside to watch the 10k where DD finished second to Alison Dargie and picked up £50 for her efforts and with no ill-effects.

We tracked down to London last weekend to watch the play 'The Miser' on the Saturday with Lee Mack. A right hoot. We were hoteling in Swiss Cottage so I got me trainers on and took a wander up Finchley Road on Friday evening, a park run on Saturday (19:30/1st V50 at Finsbury Park in cold conditions) and then past Hampstead Heath on the Sunday morning.

After a quick wash and breakfast, me and Mrs M took up our usual positions at Rotherhithe at the 11 mile mark to watch LMS (at her second marathon) and DD improving every day and taking part in her 4th London Marathon. It was a metronomic and measured race by LMS hitting the line in 3:11, a 30 minute improvement on her Loch Ness Marathon last year. Meanwhile DD set off too fast; We all shook our heads and stroked our chins as we supped our lattes and studied the app. that tracks runners around the course. Very clever, really. She passed the halfway mark at 1:26 and bulldozed on to finish in 2:59 and win the Army marathon champs and inter-services title to boot. toot,toot. Probably broke the club record also.  Pb's all over the place.

They took forever to get back to the hotel and it was a hug, a quick burger and the train back up the road.

So its back to normality this week, other than I'm a few quid poorer, but strangely there seems to be a second hand lightweight tandem in the hall, So no excuse for Mrs Mac anymore not to get out on the road. If you see two mentalists out in the lanes on a Mercian and out of control, that'll be us.  

Monday, 10 April 2017

Whats that coming over the Mountain..?

Having at last finished CJ Sansoms 'Lamentation' and a jolly long, but well crafted and entertaining novel it was, I have opened Aprils account with JP Donleavy's 'the Onioneaters', picked up for a quid at Pitlochry station. Bargain...or is it? Started well, but I'm still making my mind up about it.

This weekend gone, I've been out on the bike. Pedalling away, mile after mile after mile, my mind wandering. During the course of the ride, I ruminated on a number of things. The condition of the roads is one thing. Appalling. A national disgrace. potholes waiting round every corner to gub you. There was report work to do for Monday and chores to be done in the house, but for the life of me, when the sun's out, I'm sucked out the door, some force of thermal or solar magnetism. Not so odd I suppose given the climate.

A night with the lads a wee while ago resulted in plans being tabled to ride back up to North Berwick again. And then down again two days later. Riding up was a full day out last year. Its all well and good looking at the A1 and saying that'll be around 100 miles. However, as I don't ride a juggernaut, we had to pick our ways through the cycle-ways which in places were little more than a rough track. Factoring in all the side roads, it was around 140 miles and that doesn't include border controls. So I need to get some miles in.

Then there was the other social night, where I stated, casually and in an understated way, that I was off to the Alps in the late summer for a few days riding and before I could finish my bowl of chilli, hands were raised and it looks like that might happen as well. Best start saving. Aunt Aggie always says that good things come in threes (she also says that bad things come in threes and that she is related to Mata Hari, but who knows the truth?!). The final item in this holy trinity of cycling are my recent, protracted discussions regarding acquiring an old tandem. Its still too early to say, but matters may be resolved later this week, at which time, I will need to book myself into a therapist for people who talk the talk but can't walk the walk. I am in danger of spreading myself too thinly in the sports arena, with a karate grading round the corner and various training shoes and early summer races vying for my attention.  There is, obviously, quite a bit of organising to do on the cycling front. Lets face it, it wouldn't look too good slowing to a grinding halt up the Col de Madelaine and pitching over due to lack of training or just sheer weediness on the Col de Aggie. I don't want to cause an international incident due to a bad case of inertia.

This weekend sees me turning out for the Elswick relays, so its a two run day today and a thrashing of the weary tonight. Where will it all end?